Chasing cars on

Volvo snow patrol

THE thought probably never crossed Venetian painter Paolo Veronese's mind how anyone was going to shoehorn The Louvre's largest painting into an art gallery.

 Knocking down a couple of walls turned out to be the only solution and 400 years later rthe Wedding Feast at Cana took its place directly opposite the Mona Lisa.

 Well how about this for a feat of engineering wizardry. A Volvo sports coupe perched on a solid ice plinth in the middle of an igloo 8,000 feet up a mountain that can only be accessed by ski gondola.

 Think I'm joking? Far from it, the C30 five-door takes pride of place in the main igloo at the Volvo Ice Camp high on Kitzsteinhorn Mountain, which towers above the resort of Kaprun in Austria.

 Extreme is something the Swedish manufacturer does rather well, and relished putting both man and machine to the test in, not to put too fine a point on it, less than hospitable conditions.

 With three updated models - the C30 SportsCoupe, C70 Convertible and XC60 off-roader - to launch in one fell swoop, Volvo opted to embark on a snow patrol with a difference.

 First up was the C70 and an 80-mile drive from Munich to the partially frozen Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria.

 This elegant coupe/cabrio was the world's first four-seater convertible with a retractable hard top when it was launched in early 2006, and the new car has been re-designed to give the bonnet and grille a more inviting V shape.

 It also sports an enlarged Volvo 'iron mark' badge, high tech LED lamps to the rear and more luxurious, if still a bit minimalist, interior.

 The 136PS 2.0D engine, most economical of the four units available in C70, returned close to its claimed 47mpg, though the autobahn accounted for much of that mileage, and was effectively soundproofed too.

 It costs from £26,995 in entry level S trim rising to £34,695 for the flagship T5 petrol version.

 A change of cars for the more picturesque 120km stretch to Kaprun merely confirmed that the C30 SportsCoupe remains one of the finest premium hatchbacks on the market.

 This model also features a fresh face with new honeycomb pattern grille, larger iron mark and air intake plus new colours, wheel options and arrival of a sporty accessory styling kit.

 Best news though is the sports chassis that comes as standard on R-Design models and optional on other C30s bar super frugal DRIVe.

 Its lower centre of gravity, stiffer springs and stabilisers and 10 per cent faster steering response combine to make the car feel significantly more dynamic. It's both stylish and terrific fun to drive, with prices from £16,875 (1.6D DRIVe S) to £20,945 (T5 R-Design 230PS).

 Two cable cars followed by a skidoo ride for the final push took us to the ice camp and traditional 'tartar hat' meal where raw meat is grilled on a small brazier.

 Then it was a broken night's sleep at freezing point in one of seven small igloos as temperatures plummeted to minus 25C outside - not too pleasant if you needed to visit the nearby shed that served as a WC in the middle of the night.

  Having extricated myself from the polar sleeping bag, wrenched apart my frozen boots and ridden the gondolas back down to ground level it was time for a trip in the revamped XC60 4x4 to the snow and ice proving ground at Hintersee near Salzburg.

  This model has become the latest car to join the Volvo R-Design stable and also features a specially tuned chassis, though it hasn't been lowered in order to maintain the car's ground clearance for off-roading.

  Also more stylish all round and with a metal finish the dominant theme inside, the XC60 (from £29,495 for a 2.4D DRIVe R-Design) was not only surefooted and refined on the Austrian roads but displayed the value of its traction control systems on a series of switchback ice tracks.

  And how did they get that C30 up the mountain? Easy. They loaded it into a special cage which was then attached to a cable car, lifted up to the second station and dragged the rest of the way by piste basher before being reversed into the ice lounge.



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